I had my “big” meetings with my radiation oncologist and my medical oncologist today. We established my treatment plan and did most of the prep work necessary to get me started. As I have said before, I will have both chemotherapy and radiation treatment. The details of this are below:
Treatment Start: November 10th, 2008
Number of treatments: 35. 15-30 minutes 5 days a week for 7 weeks.
So today I was fitted for my “mask.” The mask is literally a perfect mold of my face, designed to clearly mark where the radiation treatments will be and to hold me completely still during treatment. It was most uncomfortable and VERY claustrophobic.
Basically, there is this plastic material that looks like netting. It is warmed up in a heater and with hot water. When the optimal temperature is reached, it is placed and pushed across your face to make a perfect mold. A finished mask looks like this:
Once the mask was fitted to my face and while it was still malleable, a Popsicle stick was pushed into the “mouth” of the mask and, therefore, into my mouth. This was done to force my tongue into a “down” position so the radiation could be targeted properly.
What this means is that while I have the mask on I have to have my mouth open and I cannot swallow. Try to lie with your mouth wide open for more than 2 minutes and not swallow. The saliva fills your throat.
I had to do it for 45 minutes today. And I’ll have to go it 35 more times when I go through treatment.
This mask is LOCKED down to the table while you go through treatment. I cannot move my head or close my mouth, or swallow.
And that’s not all folks. I also have to have restraints on my arms to PULL my shoulders down. My shoulders are so wide that I need to have them tied down, along with my feet, to ensure I don’t get in the way of the radiation machine and to ensure that I don’t move even an inch during treatments.
Sounds a lot like torture, huh? It’s no walk in the park. 35 times, for 15-30 minutes, I will be strapped to a table, unable to move, unable to close my mouth, unable to swallow, with pressure on my arms and feet.
In addition to the uncomfortable necessity of being immobilized for treatments I can also expect some pretty severe throat issues. I may lose my ability to swallow through the treatments. I may swell up inside my throat and need to have a feeding tube for a short period of time. My scar may swell up to 2-3x it’s current size. I may permanently damage my salivary glands and have perpetual dry mouth. My taste buds may be affected (if my tongue gets hit inadvertently).
Crazy stuff, huh? This picture is what a severe radiation burn on the OUTSIDE of the neck looks like. This could happen to me. Imagine what the inside of her throat looks like!
Chances are I’ll be much less affected than that – that’s a worse-case scenario. Still – I will endure what I need to endure to rid myself of this cancer.
I also have to go back to my ENT (surgeon) to meet with the speech pathologist. They expect me to have trouble swallowing as treatment progresses and this pathologist specializes in assessing and helping a patient such as myself through the experience.
Also, I have to get daily fluoride trays to protect my teeth. Radiation is very bad on the teeth.
Treatment Start: November 10th, 2008
Number of treatments: 3. 4-6 hours every 3 weeks.
I will be given a drug called cisplatin for chemotherapy. Cisplatin is a chemotherapy drug that is given as a treatment for some types of cancer. It is most commonly used to treat testicular, bladder, lung, throat, stomach and ovarian cancers.
Cisplatin was the same chemotherapy drug given to Lance Armstrong as he underwent his treatments. It is very effective when used in conjunction with radiation against throat cancers.
The biggest side effect of cisplatin is that it is EXTREMELY toxic to the kidneys. For that reason, my chemo won’t be a 30-minute ordeal like most sessions are. No – I will be in a chemo chair for an entire day for each treatment. The only way to protect the kidneys is to lessen the amount of time the drug resides in them. So I will be given copious amounts of intravenous liquids – meant to make my kidneys work overtime to push liquid through.
The other major side effect of cisplatin is that, of all cancer chemo drugs, this one causes sever – extreme – nausea. I have been prescribed zofran and other anti-nausea drugs that will help me manage the nausea. Still, I can expect some severe sickness as a result. These usually last 2-5 days after the chemo treatment.
Of course, fatigue is a big side effect. Other than that, side effects MAY include:
- numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
- ringing in the ears
- loss of hearing of high frequencies
- hair loss
- taste changes
The end result of all of this is that I can expect some weight loss, a high level of morbidity (side effects), and a lot of discomfort. It’s not as bad as all that, though. This too, as they say, shall pass. It’s temporary and necessary to get through this.
I know I have imparted a lot of scary stuff herein this blog. As I said before, I will endure what I need to endure to rid myself of this cancer. This is just one of those hiccups in life that one needs to persevere through. I am not putting my life on hold because of this. This IS my life – I cannot wait for it to be resolved before I start living my life. The time to live is now. Today. If we all waited for some crisis to end before we started living we’d look back and realize we missed our entire lives.
I looked around the “chemo room” at my oncologists’ office today. It was filled with men and women, mostly a lot older than me, getting their treatments. One lady was knitting. Some were sleeping. Most were talking and laughing. I had no idea that chemotherapy was a social circle. Men were swapping jokes. Women were gossiping. I was so heartened to see these men and women battling for their lives – but still living, laughing, and not letting life pass them by.
These next few weeks will be rough – but I’ll get through them. I am not alone. I have fantastic medical care. I’ll have company during my treatments. I have a wonderful lady in my life and the most amazing children in the world. They love me and I love them – and that’s my reason for getting through this. Keep me in your thoughts and prayers. As I begin treatments I will keep you all posted. Heck – I’ll be 6 hours in a chemo chair – I’ll be blogging my myself silly.
Cancer sucks. My chemo experience was predicted to be much milder than what you are describing here. In the end, I my side-effects were mild. The worst was the compromised immune system. The low energy, hair loss and nausea are bad, but generally speaking, not life threatening. The neutropenia is another matter. Still, as long as you are able to recognize in yourself the symptoms of fever, you can get yourself to the ER quickly. As unpleasant as that may be, they will take care of you. Courage!
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